SLOVAK MULTIMEDIA artist Marek Kvetan is one of the distinct figures of the young generation of Slovakia and Central European to enter the scene in the 21st century, and is one of the last generations of genetically unmodifiedartists.Hebringspost-conceptual approaches and prefers calculation, conceptual thinking and double coding. Kvetan projects his analytical means of contemplation to various media, but these are not a key for understanding his work. We prioritize the defining of individual thematic blocks in which a high-frequency visual fieldmoves and modulates.
The primary group of Kvetan’s work consists of his interventions and manipulations of the electronic and digital image, the creation of his own media lab where he concentrates his media research. While still studying he was experimenting and turned his interest to the very language of digital media, its software determinateness and the possibility of manipulating transferred data and reality. The artist’s primary strategy is the deleting, erasing and cleaning of certain details and information. He not only works against this flood of data and images, but also against documentary fidelity and vera city of the proposed visual message. Kvetan prefers the serial approach, and gradually creates a whole series of works that confirm his basic plan in a more malleable way. He hacked the home web pages of leading Internet browsers and commercial companies (Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, ebay, CNN, Coca-Cola, UBL), whereas all texts and images are deleted from them (the series WWW, 2000, c-print). He literally “freed” the Internet from the information burden and left only the bare web design, the graphic skeleton of the page (literally the “free space”). This creates a strange geometric structure of the Internet in which there expands the red area of the “spilt” Coca-Cola, Microsoft’s blue rectangle or the black border of the MTV television, across which syrupy images of pop-singers originally competed. The nearly empty www.google.com page reminds us that not only web pages, but even people are blank pages that fill themselves with some content or are filled by someone else. Inthesecond series entitled VIDOC (2000-2002, c-print) the artist presents what may seem at first glance to be every day photographs of American streets and suburbs. Yet something unpleasant and even disturbing radiates from the silent faces of advertisements and the empty surfaces of posters and shop windows. The viewer quickly realizes that all written information – texts and numbers were eliminated from the buildings, cars and billboards.
In this case, he is working with a program manipulation of the credibility of journalist photography, also referred to by the title of the cycle itself – vidoc is an abbreviated expression for “visual documentation”.
In a similar way, the Home cycle (2002-2003, c-prints) worked with digital alteration of photographs of houses with a deletion of their openings in the walls – windows and doors. In presenting the family homes and villas of the nouveau riche, numbers from a fictional real estate office catalogue were as signed to them (FSH455IS; NCE799QA). All that remains from this pleasant residential neighbourhood is a slightly threatening atmosphere of monolithic bunkers and the forsaken dull concrete facade of a prefab housing estate (Field, Prefab). The last of these “erased” series is the New City cycle (2002-2004, c-prints). This is a simple but effective moment of removing the dominant architecture from pictures of big cities. We have the chance to see traditional tourist views of Paris without the Eiffel Tower, Berlin without the Brandenburg Gate, Sydney without the opera, Prague without the castle area, etc. The viewer is thus confronted with a new form of a place / city and with his rooted idea of the characteristic trait of various places.
In the presented line of interventions and manipulations in the digital world, Kvetan also provides further strategies of transformations and metamorphosis of the electronic and the moving picture. Along with deleting part of the image, Kvetan has also developed his own film compression (Compression, 1999-2000, c-prints). While in the first case of manipulation he arranges the individual pictures one after another and creates a certain film story, in the compressionhe uses digital technology to compress the entire film in to a single picture. He chose cult action and sci-fi films for this (Matrix,Pulp Fiction, Aliens I, Johnny Mnemonic). A “freezing” of movement and the action of the film reel speaks in the strongest of these, while the artist thus reacts to a constantly accelerating frequency of shots and edits and the flowof theTV image.The principle of a single still image with a compressed “info bank” of sequences is also developed in three videos in which the film is condensed in to a single shot,whilethe original soundtrack is left to run (Matrix, 1999; A Space Odyssey; White, Blue, Red; 2000-2003, DVD, PAL). The TXT series (2003) offers a different approach in which Kvetan uses software to rewrite famous literary works (Machiavelli’s The Prince, The Koran, Hesse’s Steppenwolf, We by Zamyatin) into a new visual form. The result consists of large prints and light boxes with a detailed geometric structure that, paradoxically in its decorativeness and playfulness, does not mimic the gravity of the selected texts. The artist similarly continued in a structural analysis of the digital image when he selected from a photograph one horizontal and one vertical section and transformed it into the entire picture area (IDOC, 2004-2005, c-print). The main thematic circles of the reproductions that the artist downloads from the Internet are images of death – from an electric chair to car accidents (IDOC death 01-31), pornographic pictures (IDOC erotic 01-71), or modern art paintings (IDOC still life 01 – 23). The work is then presented in threes – the figural model and two“sections” with a geometric linear grid that only remotely suggests the model. This “image documentation” (entitled IDOC) opens many questions regarding the border between observed reality and its “image” – media and aesthetic transcriptions. Another approach in manipulating techno-pictures is the series The Others (2005-2006), the turning of geographic maps of continents and of the entire world upside down and the playful relativization of the accepted perception of a geopolitical interpretation of the world.
Another group of works by Marek Kvetan is the installation of reverse situations – the creation of hybrid objects and of installations with a dose of irony, absurdity and a switching of contexts.
In this way, contemplation yields a series of “disjointed” environments and small shifts that, however, mean new levels of content and meaning. He makes himself at home in the private sphere, in the house and flatculture. With a certain view from above he deals with how interiors are “made snug”, with DIY, and the bourgeois and dejected culture of our living rooms. It’s a funny, but pointed, derisively post-modern revitalization of decor, ornament, pleasure from kitsch and bad taste. Kvetan installed in gallery spaces on ordinary neon lights a set of small glass crystals that we’re familiar with from crystal chandeliers, and thus gave them a Baroque-like lustre of splendour (Crystal Palace, GJK Trnava 2008; Crystal Set, City Gallery Prague 2010). In a similar way he attached to industrial-like reflectors flashy crystal garlands (Reflectors, 2009). He placed dead flies in to multiple neon light covers to form words (Peace, 2009; Neon “and placed (therein) a light of Splendour”, 2010).
The artist placed on the wall the head and antlers of a deer shot as a trophy but emptied of its content so that the head is drooping against the wall. (Trophy, 2009). Leaning against the wall are boards, plywood, Styrofoam with perfectly cut ornamentation and pictures of deer, horses and fairies in the spirit of the popular Slovak do-it-yourselfers, Pat and Mat (Hobby, 2009-2010). Following the trend of sticking posters of filmand pop stars on doors of his rooms, Kvetan uses a milling cutter to burn their images right into doors – until you can see through them and they are non-functional (Rambo; Samanta, both 2009). He thus deftly brings together the culture of cult heroes and do-it-yourselfers. He built a high and unstable column of piled plates (Plates, 2009) and placed on the floora rolled-up oriental rug with small lights that blink to the rhythm of music (Carpet, 2008). He received in 2008 for this light and sound installation the 333 Award of the National Gallery in Prague, and the work became part of the gallery’s collection. The work could have remained in the position of a playful disco object (without cables), but if we add that at its core the music of the Turkish pop-singer Tarkan was playing, then this non-flying carpet can also have other politically tinted connotations.
Also belonging to the so-called interior “design” are unique conceptual paintings that again come from the decor of carpets or wallpaper prints. Through a series of plotted interventions and areas in water-colour paints he multiplies the magic of their design (Wallpaper from Room; Carpets, Glamour, acrylic on canvas, all from 2008).
The third primary area of Kvetan’s work consists of cultural situations and processes that are characterized by a change and ambiguity of identity – identity of place, artist, art and gallery institutions in which contemporary visual art is represented. Here there appears the mysterious figureof “Mr. BRA” as the joint long-term concept of Marek Kvetan (1976) and Richard Fajnor (1965) with a birth date of 2000. This is a considerably complicated project of the hybrid identity of protagonists with various forms of documentation of this artificially created character’s life (a file of records, objects and interactive installations that border on fictionandreality). Kvetan focused on the problem of the identity of cultural institutions and comments ironically on their operation and their presentation of contemporary art in them. This consists of a number of projects – turning on and off lights in empty rooms (Double Game, Prague 1999), leaning a ladder against an exhibition panel at the Prague Biennale with the chance for viewers to look behind the scenes of an exhibition (Pact 03, Prague 2005), re-installation of a light ramp on the floor, quietf requent whi stling in the gallery (Light Ramp; Whistle; Trnava 2008), or the creation of a “still life” for the lady monitoring art displays with a chair, thermos and knitting needles (Observer, Vienna 2010).
In addition to the aforementioned primary themes of digital interventions and manipulations of reverse situations and identity transformations, the artist has also created over the past decade several works that reflect politica land social question sof today’s world. In an interactive installation based on the principle of computer games, the viewer sits behind a desk and drops bombs on an anonymous city shown on a divided projection screen. The more hits that are made on the right of the screen, the more the human traits are eliminated from an anonymous figure lyingin a hospitalon the left part of the screen (Elimination Game, 2001, PC, projection). The installation with walls painted in the mixed colour of national flagsis a nostalgic look back at former statehood. The primer consists of a “Czech” colour and a flower patternisadorned to this in the colour mixed of the Slovak colours (On this our …, 2007). The installation of canvas lining of various sizes on wooden blind frames in the shape of national flagsaddressesbroader European questions (Blind System, 2007). Bearing a similarity is the object in which these canvas linings with the blind frames of the flagsareheld on gallery shop print holders (Blindshop, 2010). His work entitled 295,50 € (2009), in which fake jewellery in the value of the current minimum wage in Slovakia is placed in a plastic bowl, aptly comments on today’s social situation.
It’s clear that Kvetan’s mental and media in(ter)vention recorded over the course of the decade significant shiftsinan drever sals of semantic vectors.
The initial infections with a global language of digital images and their manipulations are expelled by interventions and “derailed” situations in which culture and DIY meet in a single small courtyard. Deletion and rationalisation gradually replace the accumulation of objects, installations and a non-linear dialogue of “high-low” materials and ideas. “Preserved” projections and concepts are transformed to a condensed field with a sharpincision to the living tissue of today. From an experimental media lab to the mysterious BRArchive, he receives impulses from various sources: Internet, software, electronic and cold neon lights, full of dead flies. Simple sources globally and locally, but also our old well-known “GloBalkans”. In a McLuhan-like manner, Kvetan models cold media products that need to be warmed up in one’s own head. They then work as razor blades – they please the eye of each demanding viewer, like corrosive substances that erode the stereotypes of our thinking. Take it, therefore, in moderation.
Marek Kvetan (born 1976 in Piešťany), graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava (1995-2001). He lives and works in Bratislava.
Awards: 1998, 2000 – finalist for the Young Slovak Artist of the Year / Tonal, Bratislava 2003 – Grand prix of the Triennale of Contemporary Slovak Graphic Art, SG Banská Bystrica; 2008 – winner of the 333 Award, NG Prague; 2010 – finalist for the Henkel Art Award, Vienna; Sovereign European Art Prize, Barbican Centre, London. Artist residencies: 2000 – The Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, USA; 2007 – FUTURA, Karlín Studios, Prague. Represented in collections: NG Prague, Siemens Vienna, CBK Dordrecht, SNG Bratislava, GMB Bratislava, GJK Trnava, PGU Žilina, SG Banská Bystrica. A list of exhibitions is available at www.kvetan.net.
On this our… 2007, installation, painters’ instruments and paint, 350x270x80 cm. Photo: archive of the artist.
MAREK KVETAN, Trophy, 2009, object, wood, deerskin, 150x100x50 cm.
MAREK KVETAN, King, 2010, installation, boxing gloves, jewelry, photo: archive of the artist.
Vladimír Beskid is art historian, curator of the Jan Koniarek Gallery in Trnava.